All Things Wireless & Letterpress

All Things Wireless & Letterpress

Monday, December 16, 2013

Our New Arrival!

On Saturday, December 14th, a new arrival was included as part of the arsenal at Paper Wren Press, a 1980 Yaesu FT-101EX.  This is the "no frills" model featuring NO 12v. power supply, NO speech processor, and NO ten meter (a) and (c) xtals.  No, No, NO!!!   It's the "NO!" Rig.  What she IS going to feature is . . . a bath and a complete field strip, cleaning, re-furb, re-dressing, and new accessories.

I've always had my eye on these products by Yaesu.  As a Novice back in the 1970s, I just could not afford them.  As a General, it was all I could do to take out a loan and purchase a Kenwood TS-520SE, which was a gorgeous rig, very dependable, and just like this Yaesu: it was the economy strip-down model aimed at us yokels who couldn't afford the really nice stuff.  

But you know?  I wouldn't have had it any other way.  As  novice, I was forced to build.  And build I did.  I made my own transmitters from a chunk of wood - later aluminium, a couple tubes, and a lot of wire and visits to the Military Surplus store in town.  I made my own primitive receivers, later designing a simple supherhet which I called a Regenerodyne.  If you google "Regenerodyne", you will now find the nomenclature to be fairly common and widespread. I wrote a program called "TubePad" to help me build, and later share what I was building on this new thing called an "Internet".  Thus, having to build brought me to where I am today.  Still broke, but having lots of great memories. From building, I got into restoring old radios, and a lot of great rigs have crossed my bench.  Classics.

And now, I have another classic.

So, sit back, pour up some coffee, and enjoy the Show and Tell as I clean up my new rig!

When I received the radio, it had been stored in a garage for a number of years.  A Florida garage. This spells humidity and heat.  Perfect ingredients for Oxidation of metal.  When the radio got home, her filaments either would not light, or lit for brief seconds and go out again. Her receiver had trouble finding a clear connection somewhere on her audio control for sound to get through to the speaker.  The band switch was very touch and go.  Nothing was making a solid connection.  No idle current to the finals when I could get the filaments to light on the finals.  My options were pretty obvious: do the deed.  Tear her down and give her a good going over with the radio restorer's best friend: DeOxit.  

This is not a commercial for DeOxit.  But it might be (grin).  DeOxit is a lubricating and penetrating oxidation inhibitor.  I get in a squeeze bottle, capped with a hypodermic needle-like cap.  It permits me to apply this stuff in the hardest to get to places.  It not only dissolves the oxidation, it also applies a conductive and protective coating which prevents, or at least inhibits future oxidation.  Oxidation is simply a molecular change in a metal that creates a less-than-conductive electronic environment. It makes a conductive surface, like, say, copper - less so.  If this oxidation forms a bridge between two connections that are meant to be isolated from each other, it is a "semi-conductor short".  Sometimes the crystals formed by such oxidation take on properties of a semiconductor diode, capable of detecting wireless signals.  They reduce current and introduce gobbs of noise.
DeOxit also has "DeOxit Gold", which is the same, only on steroids.  I used both DeOxit and DeOxit Gold.  This stuff is expensive, but I have managed to keep this little bottle for over twenty years now, so it lasts a long, long time.

Taking apart a "modern" transceiver can be a challenge just to keep track of all the screws, switches, buttons and knobs that have to be removed.  I kept track on the print shop floor using labels and old film canisters which were not only marked, but also showed the positions of the knobs when I removed them from the front panel.

The beauty of the FT-101 series of radios is their modular construction.  This is what made what normally takes days, even weeks - take only one day.  Twelve hours, to be exact.  I gave a liberal dose of DeOxit to both the copper traces on the slides, and the receiving slots.

There are a number of these plug in modules, I think something like six or seven.  You have to be careful when inserting them back into these slotted receptacles, because they are not keyed: it is possible to place them into either the wrong socket, or backward.  I numbered each one and drew a direction arrow on them.  The  larger module in this photo indicates by that obvious space that I need to find a CW filter.  I think Yaesu's CW filter was along the order of 600 Hz. 

This is the view within the "cage" where the finals reside.  These tubes have around 6-700v. coming off their "top hats".  A lot of radio frequency energy (RF) circulates around this area, which is why a conductive shield cage is placed around this part of the transmit portion of this radio.  It serves both as a physical safety against shock hazard, and keeps stray RF energy down to a dull roar, so it doesn't go leaking out and into your Hi-Fi (my what?) - the neighbours TV set, or your computer's sound card.  

You can see the socket which the changeover relay plugs into.  I removed it to clean the pins and socket.

Here's a 'bird's-eye' of the FT-101 with four of the modules removed.  This was quite a revolutionary design in transmitters and receivers back in the 1970s.  Yaesu used actual computer slot receptacles as they were known thirty and forty years ago.  A tip for you enterprising DIYers: make sure you photograph what you do, and mark those things you remove so you not only know where things go back, but in what position or direction!

Here she is with the modules re-inserted.  Just as a reference, I will be doing the equivalent of what I am doing here on a Drake TR-3.  The TR-3 will probably take about a week. Not that I mind, it's the usual amount of time.  In all fairness, the TR-3 is about ten years older, and will require re-capping.  The FT-101 shown here can go a few years before I have to do that.  Notice those electrolytics at the center top of the rig?  Those are the newer type low profile filter caps.  Even though they are 34 years old come 2014, they appear to be holding and discharging just fine!  If they were the older "Atom" type electrolytics, it might have been a different story!

Close inspection of the bottom wiring, and the hard-wiring in the "cage" showed no obvious signs of over-heating, shorts, opens or bypass issues.  Usually, I'll look closely at any resistor in series or parallel with a capacitor.  They usually tell the story, both on the resistor itself, and it's associated capacitor.  While, to be absolutely sure, one must lift any cap and resistor from ground and take measurements, I felt no real need to go that far.  This rig has common storage issues, but no cold solder or heat related issues, and almost all the caps are mica.  Ceramic hi-volt caps usually have a long shelf life, too.  Paper, molded and electrolytics are the main source of old-age issues.

Thus, observing no further issues, I just blew out the dust, slid the cabinet back on and screwed on the bottom plate.

The last thing I did was to re-set the bias to read 50mA idle current.  I did not feel the need to neutralize the finals.  I think sometimes we dig larger holes than we need to when we get into these rigs - something that restoring radios have in common with restoring old printing presses. Resisting the urge to take everything apart...because you can.

I might add that I did replace the plastic transparent protective cover.  That was pretty involved.  I had to use two sheets of medium-thick transparency stock, the type used to photocopy transparencies.  I used two because I did not have one that was wide enough to cover the entire front in a single piece. They meet at the middle of the front panel.  The escutcheon and vernier dial take up most of this area on the front panel, so the seam isn't noticeable at all!  I cut the holes with an Exacto knife.  The escutcheon and dial knob screws are holding the new Mylar transparency frontspiece in place very nicely!  Also, if you look at the power and heater switches, you might notice that I put a black border around each to cover some pretty bad scratches where larger areas of paint had been removed.  This was done with black electricians tape.  The Mylar transparency cover goes a long way hiding the fact that it's actually plastic electricians tape, and not paint!

Here's a close-up of the switches and their new 'borders' under the Mylar transparency.  Oh, I also touched up the scratches on the black part of the escutcheon, too.  Those marks you see in the photo are more of an anomaly of my digital camera, not actually something on the chrome part of the escutcheon.

Here she is.  Isn't she pretty?  That reflection on the bottom of the front panel is not a buckle in the mylar, it's actually some other random reflection.  The new plastic cover is perfectly placed.

Here is the FT-101EX installed in it's new operating position in the Print Shop at Paper Wren Press.  She sets upon a Dentron MT 3000A antenna tuner.  To the right is my Champion Bug, D-104 mic, Sure-444 mic, and trusty cup o' Joe.  My military head-sets from the 1950s lie atop the rig.  She runs at 100 watts on her original finals and driver.  She will peak at 150 watts on Sideband.  I have as yet to check out AM on here, but she'll probably do about fifty watts or so on that mode.

Here are my two major code-copying tools.  A pad of paper, a good pen, and my awesome 1955 Office Smith & Corona!  The typewriter serves as a "mill" for what is called "mill copy", an audio form of "touch typing".  I am trying to build my code speed back to my former 35 wpm.

While moving things around to make room for the FT-101, I came across a batch of my old QSL cards that I used in my vintage Boat Anchor days back in the 1990s.  These are all letterpress printed from one of the largest iron Gordon-style platen handpresses made in America, the Kelsey 9x13.  These will be reprinted soon.  If you, dear reader, might like some of this sort of vintage letterpress printed QSL stationery to grace your vintage station, contact Paper Wren Press at, or

A few close-ups of both the white and green cards and their respective envelopes.  White was for domestic contacts, the green was for foreign contacts.

And this, of course, is the Letterpress Connection.  So far, it's been just been QSL cards, but there are other connections, which we will explore.

That's it for now gang!  And a Great and Merry Christmas to you all!

-gary // wd4nka

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

QSL Cards

I've always been a collector.  It started with collecting coins.

There was an ad on the back page of  comic books back in the early sixties featuring an 1804 silver dollar.  It read something to the effect : "If you find this coin, it's worth $25,000" !   The implication was that you might find this coin in change. Yeah, in 1959.  So every evening mom and dad would dump their change and my sister and I would pour  over each and every coin, hunting treasure.  The elusive 1804 silver dollar never surfaced, but we did find some neat older coins just the same.  I found a 1914 half dollar, once.  We found a lot of  Buffalo nickels, and I think we had an assortment of 1909 pennies. Maybe an Indian Head penny or two. I think a morgan head dime might have made an appearance.

Needless to say:  was I turned on to collecting coins.  Maybe too turned on.

When my parents noticed that I had taken to lifting old coins from the church collection plate as it passed by me, they realized that a change was needed in my collecting habits.  When we got home from church that day, dad sat me down by the kitchen counter by where our incoming mail was stacked.  He pulled out an envelope and directed my attention to the green one cent 1954 regular postal issue postage stamp affixed to it (the one with Washington's portrait).

"You see this stamp Gary??  People COLLECT these things! It's called 'Stamp Collecting' !!"

 That's all it took.  From that second on, I embarked on a life of rummaging, through the mail, through old letters, through my grandparent's attic and every other attic in the neighborhood.  I began checking out library books about Philately in the first grade,  such that by the tender age of twelve, I had memorized both volumes of the 1967 Scotts Catalogs, plus the Minkus American catalog to boot.  I continue collecting to this day.  I attribute Philately to my interest in printing and Letterpress.

Part of my draw to Amateur Radio (I am WD4NKA) comes by way of Philately, or Stamp Collecting.  It  is the postal stationery associated with Amateur Radio that I find as a major area of interest. Another draw was the early Amateur Radio Press, which in the 1920s took the form of private press publications.  My very first Amateur Radio reading materials were a set of 1938 QST magazines given to me by an older ham.  The photos of the ham shacks appearing in these magazines showed the walls of these ham shacks and radio rooms literally covered with "QSL Cards".  Many of these radio shacks were in attics, so the cards covered not only the walls, but the ceiling as well.  I began finding these cards at the Hamfests our local radio club held in town.  1920s and 30s QSL cards were not hard to find in the 1970s. I soon amassed a collection of my own.  It was only a matter of time before I would have my own QSL card, following the pattern of these old QSL cards of the 1920s and 30s.

My first QSL cards (above) were letterpress printed - of course!  In time, when I began to set up and run a Letterpress Studio from my home, I would procure a 9 x 13 Kelsey front lever press, circa 1903.  Using what few fonts I had, I began copying the format of the older QSL cards, which worked out nicely for me because I was running a 1930s / 1940s era radio station.

I might mention the type used on the green card: the top titling is Litho Shaded, 36pt, the next line 12 pt Caslon 337 Old Style, my call being set in 48 pt Caslon Italic.  The next two lines 12 pt Caslon, then "Wedding Text", a font commonly used for Announcements. The remaining two lines are set in 10pt Caslon 337 Old Style.

My Station at the time featured a 6AG7 / 6L6G MOPA coupled to my regenerative superhet, a "Regenerodyne", housed in a National SRR cabinet. For those times I needed a very selective receiver, I used my BC-453 "Q-5er". My primary communication mode was cw, International Morse Code, using "Kafer", my trusty Vibroplex Champion Bug, and "Blitz", my 8-amp Royal Air Force key that actually saw service during the London Blitz. Ahh, but enough with my stuff, and on to the subject at hand.

So, just what did those old QSL cards of the 1920s and 30s look like?  How were they different than QSLs today?

Truth is, they were actually pretty similar to the cards of today, but with some differences.

Firstly, practically all hams in the 20s and 30s built their own rigs. There was very little in the way of commercially built equipment available to them. When those early hams made contacts, it was owing to the work of their hands, their skill at building and their knowledge of circuitry.  There was a great deal of pride and prestige involved. It was only natural that these amateur radio operators would become an especially tight, close knit fraternity.
These QSL cards are products of that Fraternity, a window into the hand-crafted technological world which was then the State of the Art.

The word "QSL" is part of the international Q-signals, a type of short-hand that means, literally, "confirmation of receipt of message".  These "Q" signals were used to speed along code transmissions and to simplify and clarify communications.  When a station sent "QSL?", they were asking "Did you copy everything?  Was I understood?", and the receiving station might send "FB OM QSL ON ALL" or something similar.  It means "Fine business Old Man, I copied everything and everything has been understood."

A QSL card serves as documentation of any contact for which it is sent.  The information written on the card will mirror much of the information entered in the Station Log.  Each QSL card indicates the date of the contact, the frequency, originally in kc (kilocycles) or mc (megacycles), later kHz and mHz (kilohertz and megahertz), the mode of transmission, the quality or condition of the signal received during the contact.  The old cards usually carried some sort of hand written description of the transmitter, and often a fairly detailed description of the receiver.  These descriptions became less involved as more and more store-bought equipment became increasingly commonplace in the Ham Shack.  

Through the latter 'teens, and through the twenties, cards largely described the transmitters in terms of exciter type and power to the antenna.  As tubes became more prevalent, replacing the old Spark Wireless transmitters, circuit types and final amp tubes, or what the British call "Valves" - a more accurate term - started to be indicated by types.  A Hartley self excited oscillator driving a pair of 810s in parallel, feeding 200 watts to an off-center fed dipole, for instance.  Receivers too, were described by their circuit architecture,  such as a Regenerative Detector and One Step audio into a short wire, or names of favourite designs, such as the "Bearcat 1-v-2", meaning one stage of RF amplification (or isolation, those RF front end amps were usually untuned!), "v" was the detector, 99.9 percent of the time regenerative, and "2" meaning stages of audio amplification.  Sometimes references to "Tuned AF", a form of audio filtering, might be mentioned.

Below are a examples of QSL card images I have collected as I studied their designs.  Many of these really are not only examples of radio history, but also great examples of job printing.  Some of these cards used what was then the latest border and letter fonts offered in the American Type Founders specimen books of that time.  Often the fonts chosen reflected the Art Nuveaux which was popular up into the 1930s.

 The following two cards are my own designs using my call, based upon models from the 1930s.  The nice thing is that since I have the very presses that printed these cards originally, the cards I print are neither replications or imitations.  These are the real deal as ever there was one.  And like me, most of the shops that printed these early cards were local small job shops.  Some were themselves, hams.  Most of them drew upon hand set type and borders.  Some had advantage of Ludlow or Linotype/ Intertype linecasters to help things along.  A few, later cards, began to be stereotyped for mass production late in the 1930s, when QSL cards, like the Ham Radio Press, became something that called for mass production.  Just as the QSL Card was evolving and finding it's place in the world, so were Amateur Radio Publications.  Along with these publications came advertisers, and widespread commercial ads.  

The rest is history.

As I wrap things up, I might add that if there is sufficient interest in vintage QSL cards, I can make these cards available.  Contact:

Letterpress meets Wireless here in the form of possibly the most widely sent post card in the world, serving a very important service of documentation - the QSL card.  Today, these cards are slick, four-colour graphic devices offset or digitally printed, if they are printed at all.  Many hams are opting for electronic QSLs, sent via eMail or other digital media.. As a Philatelist, I tend do things the "Old School" way.  There's a real touch and feel value in writing or typing out an actual paper QSL card.  There is an intangible 'something' about receiving a QSL card in the mail.  Something that connects me with my fellow hams of the 1920s. Something that requires my hands to handle, to write, to make.  Just like my homebrew rigs.  Just like the printing of these cards.  And it's here that Wireless meets Letterpress.

CUL, 73

de WD4NKA.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Rush to Meet the Sked!!

I am sure you have found yourself in a rush before.  Eight hours to move a mountain, and you have to start from scratch, and you haven't even begun yet.  And such it was last night for my very first on the air 'schedule', or "Sked" in radio vernacular.  The folks from the local vintage radio group, "Florida Boatanchors" had decided to meet on the 40 meter band, many of you remember it being called the "Short Waves".  Amateur Radio Stations have privileged air space right there with the Broadcasters, and have had now for one hundred years.  

The exact frequency is 7290 kHz, on some of your SW receivers, that might look more like 7.290 mHz.  The mode was AM, the traditional voice mode used in radio communication for better part of ninety years, now.  My particular rig can also do AM transmissions, so I decided to participate.  

But alas!  No antenna!  My old wireless station had been dismantled and sold over five years ago, and my leftover antenna 'stuff' lay mouldering in a pile of aluminium and oxidized copper wire and corroded coax.  Fortunately, part of the recent offering gifted to me included 100 feet of coax cable, and a generous assortment of plugs and mounting posts.  I had a lot of soldering to do before the Sked at 10am, Saturday!  It was midnight right now!  

So, first thing I did was haul in the coax, and thread it through the Letterpress Shop.

One hundred feet of tangled coax can be a challenge, especially at midnight.  I had to interleave it back and forth from one end of the shop to the other.  It was raining outside, so all my work had to be conducted inside.

The above photo shows part of my work space, literally, on the feed board of the press!  Also the stool, which served as my coffee cup parking lot during this operation.

My actual 'soldering station' was the top of my washing machine in the utility room.  Here is where I soldered all my connections which included: my coax plug to fit my radio (PL-259-Y, silver plated!), and an assortment of banana plugs.  I also had to strip the coax, peel the shielding, pre-tin the center conductor, and spread the shielding over the "shoulder" of the RG-58-U plug adaptor.  Yeah, all this fancy terminology just to say I had to solder up my transmission line.  Hey!  That's why the FCC tests us! < grin >

Just so you "dyed in the wool" ops know, I am writing this blog toward my former non-technical audience for whom I wrote as a freelance writer for the Electronics Hobby industry.  I know a lot of you may be very new at all this, many of you are old hands at the key.   But I must tell you, whether you are a newbee or a grisled vet, you must agree there is nothing like soldering on pure military grade tinned silver.  Oh, man, the 60/40 solder and flux just nicely.  There!  Ain't that a pretty connector?  I mean, really!

You may have gathered by now that I am a "Plumber's Delight" kind of guy, who uses a lot of PVC in his antenna construction.  This goes way back to my Novice days.  As I poked around my pile of mouldering antenna junk left over from years ago in my back yard, I came across one of my early dipoles, which still had it's PVC center connector!  Wow!  All I had to do was remove the rusted screws, replace them with the posts you see on the ends of the "T" in the above photo, which are actually banana jacks.  The coaxial cable feeds through the bottom, the coax is separated inside the "T" with the braid going out one side through a hole, the center conductor our the other.  These are then screwed into the end posts.  The actual antenna wires have banana plugs soldered on to one end of each length.  These are, in turn, plugged into these end jacks, and wrapped twice around the screw (the phillips head screw you see in the photo), one for each side.  This relieves the wire strain on the insulator, and protects the coax connection to those wires.  The antenna itself is called an "Inverted Vee", which we all used as Novices back in the 1970s.  Very simple, sure-fire antennas!

And here is my operating position.  My TS-430S, power supply and AT-120 antenna matching unit are parked on my Press' feed table.  My coffee cup has found a new parking lot, as you can see.

Ok, so I get to bed at 2am.  Wake up at 8am, wow, only two hours to get the wire attached to the center insulator, get it up on the push-up pole, feed the coax into the shop, and be on the air by ten AM!!  Time to hustle!  And what you see above is the result.  Voila' !  One Inverted Vee!

If you look closely, you can see how I terminated my wires to the ground: a thin aluminium stake, a piece of nylon weed-wacker wire (say that three times real fast!), and a piece of hardwood substituting for what should be a "Dog Bone" insulator.  As kids, we used to use bottle necks from Coke bottles, filing off the sharp edges of the glass.  Each side of this dipole "Vee" antenna is terminated to the ground in this manner.  There is no earth ground used in this installation.  The radios themselves, however, are grounded.

Here is a closer look at the Inverted Vee's center feed insulator.  It is held to the mast with a simple "U" clamp made for antennas, available at Radio Shack and most hardware stores.  The wire is actually thinner gauge than I am comfortable with, it's 24g hook up wire.  But it was all I had on such short notice.  Normally I use 18g stranded copper, tinned every foot or so.  And so this wire will be replaced soon enough.

These are the sum total tools used, apart from the soldering pencil and clamps at the soldering station.  A pair of dykes, a philips head screw driver, a rat tail file to file the PVC a little so the U-clamp would fit around it, a pair of heavy duty scissors, and channel locks.  Oh, yeah, and weed-wacker wire.  Did I say that right?

So, did I make the "Sked"?  Yup.  Exactly at ten AM!  And I was able to tune the antenna, and it performed flawlessly via the AT-120 antenna tuner.  Now, I could cut and trim the antenna wire itself, tuning it exactly to the frequency I want, and not even use the Antenna Tuner, but I like the ability to re-tune this antenna on other bands, something that can only be done with a tuner.  

We all gathered at 7290 kHz, but some of us had weaker signals, so AF4K (Bry) and myself QSY'd - changed frequency - down to 7270, and held our conversation on single sideband, a mode of transmission and reception that is a bit more modern, and much more efficient.  We had great signal levels between our QTH's. (locations in the Q-signal Lexicon).  We just chewed the fat for about an hour, a lovely QSO (conversation, or contact). 

Wireless meets Letterpress here in this instance, by sharing the same space.  The press is still eying the Kenwood rig suspiciously, but I believe a bond of friendship is in future for the Kenwood and the Chandler & Price Letterpress.  Expecially when it comes time to do those incredible vintage QSL cards!!
And now, for more coffee!

Stay tuned!

-de wd4nka ar k